Covid-19 has accentuated Britain’s deep class and generational divisions. While the middle classes have been safely working from home, the working classes have been at far greater risk by driving the buses, delivering parcels and keeping the supermarket shelves stacked. It is the children of the poor who have suffered most from being at home during lockdowns. Meanwhile, the under-25s have been far more likely than older workers to lose their job or be furloughed, even though they are the group least at risk from the virus.
The Northern Health Science Alliance calculates that Covid-19 has killed proportionately more people in the north than in the rest of England, mainly because of deprivation. People in poor health are more susceptible to serious illnesses. Low-paid employees unable to do their jobs from home and taking the bus to crowded workplaces are more likely to catch it, as are families pushed into housing with insufficient space.
It would be easy to blame all this on Boris Johnson and his ministers, but a proper inquiry into what has gone wrong needs to dig deeper than that. Johnson was not the only world leader to be caught unawares. This is not simply a question of ministerial incompetence, although there have certainly been blunders galore. A more searching probe into what has gone wrong has to start with the ability of any government – not just this benighted one – to perform its basic tasks properly: ensuring that the health and social care systems can cope in a crisis; providing an adequate welfare safety net
What has made this worse are the spending cuts imposed by George Osborne and successive Conservative chancellors over the past decade, which have shredded local government, including public health budgets, and public services.
One of the architects of those cuts was Matt Hancock, who is today health secretary, and thus charged with calling on the very public services that he helped starve of cash.
The government’s own reports say that a person living in one of the richest parts of England can expect to live in good health for almost 20 years longer than their counterpart in one of the poorest parts. Such huge health inequalities are among the largest in Europe.